August 18, 2017

A Devotion on Credentials and Integrity

     By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose Word I praise,
in the LORD, whose Word I praise -
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
(Psalm 56:9b-11)

     ** As I prepare for credentials meetings regarding pastoral ministry with my state's ministerial assembly, these are few things on my mind. What is integrity, especially as it applies to the church and its leaders?  I share these
thoughts devotionally, that it may be helpful to others as well as myself. **

     One's credibility can always be traced to one's level of integrity - one's walk before God. Since integrity is the most important ingredient of leadership, a minister must be a person of integrity. 

     A minister with integrity doesn't have divided loyalties and isn't pretending to have experienced God's call. Ministers with integrity are "whole" persons; they're single-minded in their walk before God. They have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. They judge everything in life by the same system of values. What they say, think and do is in sync.

    Integrity is the acid test of credibility. In credentialing work, that is, the work of checking a minister's credibility, integrity is the most import ingredient.  Integrity builds trust, facilitates high standards, results in a solid reputation, means living it myself first, and is a hard-won achievement.

     To be a pastoral leader, one must have followers. To have followers, one must have their confidence. To have their confidence, one must have integrity. Therefore, the number one quality of pastoral leadership is integrity.

     Every church or ministry is influenced to grow or decline by its leadership. The character of its leaders determines the character of the organization. Everything rises and falls on leadership. And the secret to rising, and not falling, is integrity.

     Pastors and leaders must live by higher standards than their followers. They can give up anything except responsibility for themselves or their organization. When the character of a leader is low, so is his or her standards.

     No minister can lead anyone further than he or she has been his or her self. There are no shortcuts to a life of integrity. When ministers fail to follow this principle, they lower their credibility.

     Clever ministers never last. Effective pastoral ministry is based, not on being clever, but on being consistent. No one can fool all the people all the time. Eventually, each of us is recognized for exactly what we are and not for what we try to appear to be.

     Delight yourself in the LORD
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit you way to the LORD;
trust in Him and He will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
(Psalm 37:4-6)

June 18, 2017

Back Home in the Church of God

Today was the first day back home in fifteen years. For all that time I had wandered in the deadening throes of denominationalism. Never one to hold back on a challenge, I left my home church (Church of God, Anderson, IN) to see if I could make a difference in the United Methodist Church. And I found myself, like the prodigal son, in the pig sty asking, "What am I doing here? I had it so much better in my home church." So, I finally came to myself and returned home to the Church of God Movement. It was a wonderful day. There really is no place like home.

I could give many reasons for leaving the United Methodist Church, but it really came down to just one. With all the turmoil of a pending split in the denomination, I was unable to keep my focus on Jesus. The UMC has lost its focus on Jesus because it has forsaken the authority of the Bible for their own man-made rules. It has become so open and welcoming of everything in its beliefs that it no longer stands for anything. The denomination has become the sectarian gods that they have set up before them, fighting among themselves to gain power and control over a failing institution. There is really nothing left of any significance to focus on when Jesus is cut out of the picture. So, I left the United Methodist Church. I came out and separated from them. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

In God's Church there is biblical holiness and spiritual unity among God's people. In God's Church the focus is always on Jesus. In God's Church the children's song is proved true: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."  In God's Church the Bible is the only rule of faith and Christ alone is LORD. 

So, it's back to the blessed old Bible and the light of its Word for me. It's back to an emphasis on holy living, by which the God's Church comes to experience true unity. It's back to focusing on Jesus. And I've never found any church group that embodies these truths more than the Church of God Movement. It's good to be home!

June 11, 2017

Core Convictions of the Church of God Movement

Jeremiah 31:31, 33
2 Corinthians 3:6
Ephesians 4:3-6

In June of 1993 ministers of the Church of God gathered in an ante room, then paraded into the old tabernacle of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) campmeeting grounds to hear a message from the LORD.  The preacher that day was Barry L. Callen, Dean of Anderson University. He stood up before us, and the others who were there, tall with a graying beard and he said, "I know I look like Daniel S. Warner." (Who was a late 1800s pioneer minister of the Church of God Reformation Movement). Everyone laughed. "I also know with 1500 ministers sitting before me, it's going to take more than a similar appearance to the founder of the our movement to convince anyone of our core convictions." And with that introduction, be began his message. I was one of the ministers there that day, and I heard a Word from the LORD. The core convictions that Dr. Callen laid out for us have became mine, too.  And they still are!  This is what I heard him say.

"The LORD declared through the prophet Jeremiah that 1) He would have a new covenant, and that 2) He would have a new people. The prophecy found its complete fulfillment in the ministry of Jesus Christ and in the establishment of His body - the Church. The writings of Paul make it clear that all who come into that Church - the new covenant community - are enabled to live lives worthy of their calling and ministers of the new covenant and are charged with keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 

"Our predecessors in the Church of God Reformation Movement were some very special men and women, who dared as God's new people to take the implications of the new covenant with a new seriousness. One young minister named Daniel Sidney Warner wrote this in his journal on December 13, 1877. "The day was mild and fair. Took a walk in the woods to commune with God. Thought much about the words of God, 'I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel ... They shall be my people ...'" Then he wrote, "Amen, LORD. I am yours, forever. Fill me with Your presence, now. LORD, reveal Yourself in me. At Your feet I humbly bow to receive the holy seal."

"There the light of basic Christian truth was beginning to shine again. There was issued a radical call to live out the implications of Christ's new covenant. That day a fresh commitment was made to be God's new people, to live holy lives in a unified Church. Today we are gathered together in this beautiful sanctuary as the inheritors of a rich, religious tradition. We gather as Bible believing disciples, returning to Bible truth and moving ahead with a vision of the Church. But before we attempt to call out other Christians, who are serious about the new covenant Church and being God's people, we better make sure we know about the Church, that we have seen the Church, and that we are practicing what we know and have seen. With that in mind I declare these core convictions about the Church of God. 

The first core conviction is: God's Church is Alive.

"Despite the false fronts and lies of past and present religious leaders and all the doctrinal heresies of the centuries; despite the rise and fall of nations and government, and all the oppressive tactics of ideologies like communism and Marxism; despite the deadening effects of denominationalism, and the apathy present even in some of our own churches; despite all of the efforts of the power of darkness ... God's Church is still alive and well

"The words of Charles Naylor's hymn describe what our pioneers faced: 'The light of eventide now shines, the darkness to dispel ... for out of Babel God doth call His scattered saints in one ...' The visible church structures of that time were in the dark. They were in the wilderness. There was division and discouragement. But, there was also hope. There were still 'the glories of fair Zion' and 'the light of eventide.'

"In 1895, the year that D.S. Warner died, William D. Schell declared, "Hell never can destroy the Church." Not the Church built by our Savior. Upon the solid rock of Christ - still she stands!  The Church of God ... not a human organization, but a living organism ... brought into being by God ... alive with His living presence and His power. 

"Today governments continue to oppress, and materialism is a worldwide menace. But God's Church is alive! Today there are more nuclear warheads than ever, we seem to be losing the war on drugs, and the cults continue to grow. But the Church of God is alive and will overcome. Today denominationalism is still deadening. But through it all God has a people, a new people, who are moving ahead with their Master, moving into the future with the One who holds its outcome in His hand. 

"In another generation we will be gone, this building may have collapsed in decay, our nations may be nuclear wastelands, and our church committees may be forgotten experiments. But God's family will still be celebrating ... either in this town, some other place, or around His throne in heaven. No matter what else is dead, the Church of God will be alive.

"Do not be afraid," said Jesus. "I am the first and the last. I am the living One. I was dead and, behold, I am alive for ever and ever." (Revelation 1:17-18) "I will build my Church," announced Jesus, "And the gates of hell will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)  Be sure of this" Whatever the opposition - God's Church is alive!

The second core conviction: God's Church is Holy.

"There have always been misunderstandings about church holiness. Some suppose that ministers can trace their authority directly back to Christ and His apostles, as if somehow that can guarantee our purity before God. Some say that robes, candles and rituals somehow ensure the sacredness of the sanctuary. Others presume that distance between the Christians and even the appearance of evil somehow preserves holiness. Some take comfort in having a sign in the church yard which reads, "First Church of God, Where Experience Makes You a Member." All of these are hollow approaches to holiness in and of themselves.

"God's Church is holy only when it actually exists in a given place as the living family of God. God's Church is holy only as its membership is sanctified, or in Warner's words, "Filled with Thy presence, now." Holiness has always been a central conviction of the Church of God. Our movement has been a quest for both holiness and unity. In fact, unity is only, and will be only, found in a holy church.

"Our pioneers assumed that the solution to sectism lay in the work of the Sanctifier. Warner once wrote, "you need not waste time in planning general union movements, or praying the LORD to restore the unity of His Church, until you go down under the blood and have every bone of contention and cause of division purged our of your own heart."

"I'm sure your are aware that over the years the teaching about sanctification has become muddled among us. We've reacted to preaching which has expounded the doctrine of Christian holiness a little too neatly, and have become preoccupied with related issues like dress and entertainment. We've become quick to deny that we are charismatics, or that we are Pentecostal, even though such words are biblical and represent fundamental realities in the Christian life.

"But whatever our failings and fears, we must never become silent about the call to holiness.  D. Otis Teasley's hymn must remain our clarion call. "Back to the blessed old Bible, Back to the light of its word; Be on our banners forever, 'Holiness Unto the LORD.''  Scripture is plain: "As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves,' and "In all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ."  The Church of God is holy, as its members are sanctified and grown-up in Christ. God's Church can be, must be - holy!

The third core conviction: God's Church is One.

"Having been cleansed by the Sanctifier's fire of perfect love, our pioneers became impatient with Christians who failed to accept, and love, each other. Surely, if we have each been grafted into the living, holy body of Christ, then we are one with each other in that one body.  As Warner wrote, "O brethren, how this perfect love unites us all in Jesus!"  In the early days of our movement the call was for Christians to walk in the way of holiness, renounce the sin of sectism, and stand together. Free in Christ - together.

"Probably nothing is more central to what we are about as the Church of God Reformation Movement than the concern for Christian unity. Our hearts have been broken, because we have believed that God grieves over the factions and divisions among His people. We know that such division hinders the mission of His Church. We have emphasized that true Christian unity is a divine gift to us. We receive it. We don't contrive it.

"One key lesson we're still learning, though, is that Christian unity is both given and gained. Ephesians 4:3 assumes the gift, calling us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:13, however, points to that which must be gained, calling us to build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith. Christian unity is both a gift and goal. Christ gives the Spirit of unity, but we who receive Him must have the will to make unity a reality.

"It is a frustrating, difficult teaching. the gift has thrilled us, but the goal has stayed just beyond our reach. It's sad to say, but we have actually refused to fellowship some our brothers and sisters, even in the holiness and evangelical churches, because they haven't understood what it is that we stand for. We have wanted so badly not to compromise the truth that sometimes we have looked to ourselves as the standard of truth. We have have a tendency to sacrifice fellowship with Christians outside our movement because we have been afraid that they will contaminate us. As one campmeeting preacher recently said, "We have wanted to be a leaven in the loaf without even being mixed in the dough." And through all this, denominations haven't disappeared. Divisions continue, sometimes among us, and sometimes even because of us.

"The gift is still real, but the goal is still not achieved. We have learned that making visible and operational the oneness we have in our hearts is not easy. It's hard! And it's not always in line with all of our theological understandings. But we are still sure that this unity in Christ, and in the visible church, is not optional. God does will the oneness of His people.

"Some Christians are black, some are white. Some like to jump and shout, while others prefer to sit and meditate. Some tend to emphasize the insights of John Calvin, and some swear by John Wesley. Some are emotional, politically conservative and lovers of campmeetings, while others are politically liberal, and you usually find them in cathedrals or in the streets rather than in revival meetings. Some Christians honestly read a Bible verse one way and some another.

'But whatever the differences, against all human tendencies to separate, we Christians must will to be one. If we are serious about God's new covenant, then we will not be quick to think the worse of each other. We will concentrate our commitment on Jesus, and hold less tightly to our own ways. We will be more open to the whole Church of God, and less controlled by the limits of our own customs. We will be speaking to today's issues, in today's language, with the same truth and the same intensity of our pioneers.

"Christ alone is central. Jesus is always the subject. Jesus alone transcends the differences among us. He is the key to understanding His Word. Only in Him are we one, or will we ever be one - in Christ Jesus.

"Horace Mann once said, 'I have never heard anything about the resolutions of the Apostles. But I've heard a great deal about their Acts.'"  Let's put our ideal to work. Let's turn our beautiful words into unifying actions. Let's be pioneers in our own right. Let's actually 'reach our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one.' Let the prayer of Jesus be our prayer, too: 'I pray for those who will believe in Me, that all of them my be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I in You. May they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.'

The final core conviction is: God's Church is God's Church.

"We didn't found the Church of God. It found us! We don't choose the members. We embrace all who are members by God's Choice. We don't govern it with a heavy hand. We participate in it with a humble heart. We aren't the Church of God, but we are a part of it, who cares deeply about all of it.

"Since the Church of God is God's, it's my heartfelt desire that we stop thinking so denominationally. You know what I'm saying: "I'm not going there because its sponsored by the Baptists." "We can't do that because those aren't Church of God people." "you can't believer like that, because F.G. Smith or Mid-America University teaches this."

"My friends, neither the Gospel Trumpet, our theologians, nor any of our schools have ever had a corner on truth. And the great moving of the Spirit of God has never been confined to the borders of our fellowship. If we think of ourselves as the standard for God's Church, we will poison our heritage and fall away from the truth.

"In 1929 D.A. Reardon, speaking to the ministers at the Anderson Campmeeting, said, 'I believe in a clean, separate, and distinct work for God. But I also believe that we should keep the sectarian stink out of the distinction. There is such a thing,' he concluded, 'as stressing the reformation to such an extent that we cause our people to be reformation centered - reformation sectarians.'"

"The worse thing that could happen to us as a church is to become the home of our own brand of sectarianism. If we will determine to think and act like a movement, a part of God's great movement, then we will not have to spend so much time worrying about whether we're becoming a denomination. As a movement among God's people, it is our task to resist becoming a settled and ingrown crowd of Christians.

"It isn't enough to rely on our past understandings and achievements. Nor is it enough to be learning from our present church leaders, and counting on them to filter out all the obstacles before us. "Jesus is the head of His Church. God's Church is God's.

"These core convictions brought the Church of God Movement into being and continue to guide its life.  The Church of God is alive, holy, one and divinely ruled.  'O Church of God, I love the courts, Thou mother of the free; Thou blessed home of all the saved, I dwell content in thee.'

"May God help us to be on our way, toward the goal of a holy, united church for a dark, divided world. May we be encouraged by that promise, 'I will make a new covenant ... They will be my people.'  And may we be sobered by that call to live lives worthy of the calling we have received."

May 28, 2017

The Beauty of God's Church Found in Scripture

     As my church (the United Methodist Church) heads toward an almost certain separation of differing factions, I am led to return to my roots. For 25 years I was a part of and involved in the ministry of the Church of God (Anderson, IN). I worked with them and worshiped with them. Their doctrines and theology still form the basis of my Wesleyan orthodox faith. And key to my understanding of Christian doctrines as set forth in the Word of God is the theology that has shaped and molded the Church of God to this day. As the UMC divides itself, I find assurance in reflecting upon the original pattern of God's Church as revealed in Scripture. 

     God's Church was purchased and established by Christ Jesus. (Acts 20:28) His Church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit filled those gathered in the Upper Room. (Acts 2:4a) It was from this original community of faith that God gave the pattern for His people for all time. This I know, because the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Word of God, the Word which endures forever. (1 Peter 1:25) The same sure Word that fills my heart with the truth as it is in Jesus to this day.

     While the Word of God stands sure, various interpretations of that Word have not been as trustworthy. There have been heresies since the early days of the Church, which have developed and led many of God's people off into strange thinking and wayward discipleship. Various states of apostasy have settled down upon those claiming the name of Jesus. But through it all God has always preserved a sacred remnant who have remained true to His Word as revealed through the Spirit of Truth. The faithfulness of such followers of Jesus through the centuries serves as a spiritual catalyst for us today. Their faithfulness cause us to reflect upon the original pattern of God's Church. We measure ourselves by the Church as revealed in Scripture.

     It has always been such a quest for scriptural truth that has moved upon the hearts of reformers to call Christians to holiness and oneness. Being lead by the Holy Spirit into an understanding of scriptural holiness, reformers through out the centuries have known this as the key to Christian unity. They believed that the experience of holiness would eventuate in the unity of God's people. It was a unity that went beyond sectarian spirits and denominational doctrine. So persuaded, reformers declared themselves free from humanly instituted religion and fellowshiped with all who had experienced the Lordship of Christ.

     Out of such movements of the Spirit, other Christians are being led into a similar understating of true unity.  With a spirit of humility they seek only to follow Jesus rather than the organized religious orders of the day. Being committed to this truth and drawn together by the Holy Spirit, such movements still continue. Recognizing the Lordship of Jesus, they seek only God's plan for the Church. They avoid creedalism and doctrinal disciplines, seeking only to have the Bible as their rule of faith. While this allows for some diversity within their fellowships, it also makes possible a unity that is divinely originated rather than humanly instituted. The beauty of God's Church is the unity which comes only from a common experience of scriptural holiness, producing lives which are obedient of Christ Jesus.

May 21, 2017

Out of United Methodism Will Come a Reformation

     My church is divided. Unity is far from reality. There's little hint among the people of just what the problem is, if there really is one. They think it's so big, whatever the problem, that no one can deal with it. A tiredness permeates everyone. You can see it in faces. Laughter, when it does come, is only surface sounds of momentary relief. From the pulpit to the last pew, there is no since of community. Division has supped out all the energy. My church is divided. It is dying.

     O, there are some outward signs of possible recovery. The leaders have meetings. There are parties and group gatherings. Collections are taken for the poor and needy. The pianist plays. The choir sings. The preacher preaches. There are the sights and sounds of church each Sunday, including an occasional reference to the growing numbers of people there. An interim staff member is hired to bring hope for the better. Maybe, just maybe, things will just get better. Surely, all the hard work will pay off. Surely, everything will be all right.

     Such is the state of United Methodist Church these days. And the effects of its death pangs are felt all the way to the local church, even mine. Sides are being taken in stealthy silence. The culture is so much a part of our lives, that its worldly ways are seen at every level of church life. The divisions play out with terms such as liberal and conservative, open and closed, inclusive and exclusive, equality and discrimination, traditional and progressive. The labels cause distrust and misunderstanding. All of which is devastating to community.

     So, what to do? With the ancient Psalmist, I cry out of the depths to the LORD. I too ask, O LORD, if You should mark iniquities, who could stand? Mostly, I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope. My soul waits for the LORD. I hope in the LORD! With Him is plenteous redemption. He will redeem His people from all their iniquities. (Psalm 130)

     John Wesley once said, "I'm not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit and disciple with which they first set out."  (Thoughts on Methodism - August 4, 1786)

     The United Methodist Church has allowed a state of apostasy to settle down upon those who have believed in Christ and have joined the denomination to express their faith. The people, who now call themselves United Methodists, are anything but united. They have moved away from being the community of faith that God gave as a pattern for His people by the power of the Holy Spirit in His Word, the Word which endures forever. (Acts 2:4; 1 Peter 1:25)

     But in the midst of such conditions God has always preserved a sacred remnant, those who remained true to His Word as revealed through the Spirit of Truth. The faithfulness of such men and women, past and present, serves as a spiritual catalyst. It causes reflection upon the original pattern of the Church. The redemption today is from the LORD, who has used reformers throughout history to call the denominational church to measure itself by God's Church revealed in Scripture.

    And so, no matter the state of divisiveness and spiritual apostasy in the denomination called the United Methodist Church, God will keep a remnant of His people alive and well for His purposes in the world. And once again, as God has said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Corinthians 6:16) Reformation movements, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, are now being used by God to herald the message, "Come out from them (apostate denominations), and be separate from them ..." (2 Corinthians 6:17)

     There will again be holiness, and as a result, unity among God's people. Praise God! His Church will continue, as it has for over 2,000 years, by keeping focused on JESUS and standing for the authority Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the next reformation movement is, whether some new Methodism or another group of JESUS loving, Holy Spirit filled, gospel spreading Christians, I want to be there with them.  And, God willing, I will!

January 20, 2017

On the Inauguration of President Donald Trump

So, our nation has a new president. Donald J. Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I watched and listened intently to the entire celebration of the "peaceful transfer of power." All was done according to protocol and tradition. Prayers were given, handshakes were shared, songs were sung, speeches were given, and the exchange between different factions of our government was completed with well wishes for all. The news covered the event in great detail. Everyone in our nation, and around the world, who wanted to hear and see the proceedings had the opportunity to be a part of history today.

As I watched all of this happening, there swelled up within me a strong feeling patriotism that I hadn't experienced in many years. As I listened to President Trump's speech, I sensed a meaning in his words that spoke directly to me. It was as if he was speaking for me about what the Lord has in store for our country. There was a godly pride, and a willingness to roll up my sleeves and get down to business, that I haven't had in almost 50 years. There is now within me a hopeful confidence that our country is about to get back on track again. There's an assurance in my new president that what has needed to be done for a long, long time is about to get done.  For the first time in many years I feel good about being an American.

As I looked at the faces in the crowds, I saw what I was feeling in them. President Trump said very little, if anything, about himself. He spoke about how the inauguration was really the American people's inauguration. It is us who are taking office today, for our president made it very clear that he is our servant and our voice in the affairs of governing this great nation. Hopeful aspirations, a wanting for everything to work out for the best of the country - these were the expressions I saw on the faces of the people.  These were the feelings in my heart and mind, too.  

Mostly, I have a sure confidence in the Lord, our God, that He has His hand on our new president, and that He will lead and guide him to fulfill His will for our country in these difficult days. With God's blessing and the will of the American people upholding President Trump, I feel certain that the best days for the Untied States of America are ahead of us. I haven't been able to truly say that for a long time. It's great to be an American again.

October 29, 2016

No Church Has to Die

Once there was a worshiping community who was radically devoted to God. They were committed to spreading the Gospel.  They were connected in such a way that they called each other brothers and sisters.  They even sold their property and possessions so no one in the community would have to live without basic needs.  And walls came down!  Gender, racial, social and economic differences dissolved away.  They were washed in the blood of the Lamb.  They experienced the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in their community.*

This vision of what the church can be is from Acts 2.  Some few of us may have been part of such a church.  Most of us haven't!  Our churches, for the most part, have not been that faith inspiring.  Our churches haven't moved us to do that much.  Most of us have not experienced an Acts 2 church.

Why?  Why don't we have churches like that today?  Has God lost His power?  Is the Holy Spirit no longer fired up?  Does the Gospel no longer change lives?  The problem isn't God, the Holy Spirit nor the Gospel.  The problem is us!  The problem is people won't risk everything to build an Acts 2 church.  That's the problem!

Leadership matters in all churches of God because people matter to God.  The only reason God spilled His blood on the cross of Calvary is His love for people.  We in the church all have a sacred obligation to grow as leaders, develop our ministry skills, and learn how to do the Lord's work better.  Everyone wins in church when a leader gets better.  A church grows when its leaders get better. 

It's our decision as leaders to get better as whatever we do in the church.  When we feel in our own spirit that we are developing, our hearts are growing, our heads are growing, our gifts are growing, then people around us sense our growth and begin to live their lives that way.  Leaders who are growing lift people up, build up the church, and are a blessing to others. 

A church loses this lifting up - building up - blessing others, when its leaders stop growing.  Churches without growing leaders are dying churches.  And over time dying churches finally have to close their doors.  What is more sad than a light of God's kingdom that goes out?  We live in a dark world.  There aren't that many lights.  So, when a church's light flickers, and then goes out, it's a tragedy.  It's a tragedy when a church dies.

It's all gets back to what the church is really about.  The church is all about evangelism, discipleship and compassion.  When evangelism is happening supernaturally, when people are getting saved from their sins, when people are becoming faithful followers of Jesus, when people are reaching out to those who are hurting with compassion and care, praise God!  That's it!  That's the beauty, power and potential of every local church.  When church works right, there is nothing else like it on earth.

No church has to die.  Every church, with God's help, can stay fired up and faith filled.  Keep telling people that God loves them, that the Holy Spirit is still working in people's hearts, that the Gospel is still transforming people's lives, that the church is still the only hope of the world.  Keep beating that drum.  Good things will happen. 


*I'm indebted to Bill Hybels (Good News magazine September/October 2016) for his testimony to Gods' grace in his life and ministry, part of the outline of which I used for this post. 

October 9, 2016

The Enormity of Our Salvation Through Faith in Jesus Christ

I wonder sometimes if we ever really understand what we've been saved from.  So much of what we go through in life - disappointments, diseases, heartaches, hurts and pains - are like a childhood disease in comparison to a life without Jesus.  Life without God is far worse than anything we can conjure up.  Whether we realize it or not, if we're living right now without Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we're very sick.  We're sin sick!

Our disease - our sin - isolates us from the only One who can cure us and give us life.  We're all, to some extent, living with the disease of sin, which also isolates us from one another.  We have a common disease.  We're all sinners saved by God's grace, if we're come to faith in Jesus.  But whether we have or have not believed in Jesus, we're constantly in need of God's cure for our lives. 

We don't naturally have a relationship with God.  All we have is a disease, called sin, which separates us from God.  The only way we can approach God is with a cry for mercy:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner. We can't stand before God in our own righteousness or counting on our good works to give us enough credit with God to save us.  We are totally at God's mercy and grace for everything.  We come to God as humble sinners, or we come not to God at all.

Many choose the not at all option.  Many of us take our sin disease for granted.  We think:  Everyone has it, so it must not be that bad!  Others seem to be doing all right with it, so I can, too!  Every kind of moral ethics is being challenged these days, so if I fail, what does it matter?  Everyone else is failing, too!  Why do I even have to hear about it?  I can always find a church that accepts my sin disease and makes me feel good about myself.

What we're doing by taking our sin disease for granted is masking our ourselves so well that only our masks become important to us.  Out masks become all that's real to us.  We become so convoluted in our perverted minds, that we accept a lie as our reality - a reality in which a lie becomes the truth for us.  This is the essence of what it means to be sin sick.

The the Gospels of the New Testament we read that Jesus of Nazareth lived His whole life to fulfill God's will as the Messiah - the Christ of God.  After three years of teaching, healing and doing the works of God, His Father, Jesus headed to Jerusalem to do final battle with the sin disease.  There He takes on our disease, every last bit of it, and becomes our sin,  Our sin makes Him into Someone who is despised, because Jesus has no mask.  He is despised, rejected, stricken, afflicted with our sin - your and mine.  

And from the cross, upon which He died, He cries out in agony as He bears all our sins, "Father, why have You forsaken Me?"  Then He says, "It's finished!"  And He bows His bleeding head and dies, taking with Him all our sin - your sin and mine.  

Jesus arose from the dead three days later.  And nothing - nothing - nothing has been the same since.  The isolation from God and one another is gone.  God is our God.  And He's alive!  Jesus is our Lord, our Master.  And He's our cure from the burden of our sin disease.  Jesus cures, Jesus gives freedom from disease, Jesus saves everyone who comes to Him and asks, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."

This is the enormity of the disease from which we are saved.  As we come to saving faith in Jesus, we gratefully follow His command to proclaim to the world that Jesus Saves!  The salvation we have in Christ is as big as the love God has for us.

July 22, 2016

God's Work Continues at Wounded Knee

God's work continues as faithful servants are called, and will be called, to places of ministry all over the world. Last month, thirty six ago, I answered the call of God to work for Him at Wounded Knee, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation among the Lakota Sioux people.  After only two years of ministry, I had to leave the post for personal reasons, wondering what would become of the mission there.  Last summer, though, it thrilled my heart to see the land once again, as my wife and I dropped by for a visit.  I was encouraged to found out that others had taken up work, and that great improvements had been made in every facet of the ministry.

When I arrived in 1980, fresh out of seminary, with great aspirations as a newly appointed Home Missionary, my thoughts were much about the people (about a hundred who lived in the village and surrounding area) and the property (about five acres).  Begun in the early half of the 20th century, the land had been acquired by the Church of God (Anderson), and they began sending missionaries to win the people to the LORD.  I had read all I could get my hands on about the mission, prepared myself as best as I could for the work, and was sent with much enthusiasm to carry on God's work at Wounded Knee.  

There were many signs of past work in the area, both religious and secular.  Several old church buildings were in sight from the mission (some still being used), including the early missionary Catholic church (long since abandoned).  Over the hill was the village of Wounded Knee, which was actually a plot of government built housing - mostly in bad repair with individual houses without windows.  Just down the road from the turn-in to the mission compound, the burned ruins of a community store were still heaped up after the 1973 American Indian Movement (AIM) uprising.  On the property itself was an old building, which had been the original church (being used during my time there for a fellowship hall), the new teepee chapel (pictured above), and an well-used trailer in which my family and I lived.

My work there was as a restart-up ministry.  Little had been accomplished since AIM had destroyed so much of the property, and the will of the people, seven years before.  My missionary mentor from Anderson came to visit me during my first year there.  When he saw the ruins, he said "history dies hard."  The people and the place were still hurting, in many ways like so many of their ancestors throughout their history.  I did all I could to tell the people about Jesus' love for them and show them that God cares for them.  By the time I left, it seemed that I had done so little.  But others followed me, the church continued to send missionaries, and the LORD never gave up on the ministry there.

I went on to other fields of ministry, but my heart was touched in such a way that I'll never forget the people and the place of Wounded Knee.  God's work does continue there!  And for His grace and mercy shown us all, who have been called (and will be called) to work for Him there, I give all the glory to our heavenly Father.

May 16, 2016

"I'd Rather Be A Door-Keeper ..."

An Apologia for My Life
Samuel M. Shoemaker

I stay near the door. I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out. The door is the most important door in the world. It is the door through which people walk when they find God. There's no use my going way inside, and staying there, when so many are still outside and they, as much as I, crave to know where the door is.  And all that so many ever find is only the wall like blind men, with outstretched, groping hands, feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door, yet they never find it. So I stay near the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world is for people to find that door - the door to God.  The most important thing that anyone can do is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands and put it on the latch - the latch that only clicks and opens to the person's own touch.  People die outside the door, as starving beggars die on cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter - die for want of what is within their grasp.  They live on the other side of it - live because they have found it.  Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it, and open it, and walk in, and find Him.  So I stay near the door.

Go in great saints, go all the way in - go way down into the cavernous cellars, and way up into the spacious attics - it is a vast roomy house, this house where God is.  Go into the deepest of hidden casements, of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.  Some must inhabit those inner rooms, and know the depths and heights of God, and call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.  Sometimes I take a deeper look in, sometimes I venture in a little farther; but my place seems closer to the opening.  So I stay near the door. 

There is another reason why I stay there.  Some people get part way in and become afraid lest God and the zeal of His house devour them; for God is so very great, and asks all of us.  And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia, and want to get out.  "Let me out!" they cry.  And the people way inside only terrify them more.  Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled for the old life, they have seen too much: once taste God, and nothing else will do anymore.  Somebody must be watching for the frightened who seek to sneak out where they came in, to tell them how much better it is inside.  The people too far in do not see how near these are to leaving - preoccupied with the wonder of it all.  Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door, but would like to run away.  So for them, too, I stay near the door.

I admire the people who go way in.  But I wish they would not forget how it was before they go in.  Then they would be able to help the people who have not yet even found the door, or the people who want to run away again from God.  You can go in too deeply, and stay too long, and forget the people outside the door.  As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place, near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there, but not so far from people as not to hear them, and remember they are there, too.  Where?  Outside the door - thousands of them, millions of them.  But - more important for me - one of them, two of them, ten of them, whose hands I am intended to put on the latch. So I shall stay by the door and wait for those who seek it.  "I had rather be a door keeper ...."  So I stay near the door.